Tom Boonen’s delicate (t)issue

Injury can rob a champion of their aura. We can attribute superhuman abilities, high pain tolerance and unparalleled handing skills to a top rider, But when someone announces they’ve got a saddle sore a bit of dignity is lost.

Right now Tom Boonen is soldiering on in the Vuelta with a saddle sore and normally you’d cheer at his brave riding but talk of “a kind of diaper” has made a few fans laugh and others feel sorry for him. have picked up a Het Nieuwsblad piece.

It does hurt quite a lot… Because of the friction of the pants with the saddle, I suffer from an injury to the scrotum. The extreme heat and excessive sweating caused a heavy irritation in that area. There is a hole. It is not the first time that I have suffered in this place, but never as bad as now… I got a ‘second skin’, and glued it at times to a kind of diaper. The perineum, the area between the scrotum and the anus, is simply the most delicate part of the body

I can’t help feel Boonen is giving away too much information. This is a risk of the job for riders, many others will have had the same problem but maybe they weren’t so explicit in the diagnosis and means of coping with the injury.

In fact go back to the 1989 Tour de France and the famous battle between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon. To summarise, the final stage into Paris was a time trial and LeMond won the Tour de France by just eight seconds that year. Now this was down to all sorts of things, from LeMond’s recovery powers and Fignon’s decision not to use novel “tri-bar” extensions. But one factor was the abscess ensured by Fignon, he had trouble sitting on the bike apparently.

There are different ways to deal with this. In the early days of the sport, a century ago, riders put veal or pork chops down their shorts for cushioning. Today’s bike shorts are an improvement, no?

Saddle cut out
Cut out and weep

Cutting a hole in the saddle is meant to help, as the image above shows.  Riders will also use dressings, if you do then tell friends you’ve “dressed the wound” instead of admitting to wearing a diaper. Various anti-biotic creams can help.

But if things get Boonen-esque, get off the bike. Chances are your job isn’t on the line and continued riding just makes things worse. Each extra day means the roads of Spain means rhyme with loads of pain. Leave it too long and you can damage other tissue, such as the nerves and more.


  • The first thing is to check leg length. If one limb is longer than the other than you are likely to be pulled to one side. If you get trouble down there and it’s usually on the same side, this is probably the case.
  • Similarly get your saddle height ok, as if it’s a bit too high you can sway when pedalling, increasing the chafing.
  • Position on the saddle matters too, if you are too far front it can mean more weight applied to a smaller area, riders can often pick problems after spending a day on the time trial bike in training.
  • Some say cream helps but personally I’m less sure. I think it might have helped in the days when the chamois insert was actually leathery chamois but today you don’t need to treat the pad in the shorts.
  • As soon as you’ve finished riding, get washed and changed. The bacteria that turn a pimple into a bigger infection. Riders normally like to head for the team bus, even those waiting for the podium ceremony will aim to freshen up.

Poor Tom Boonen, you might have heard of tabloid pressure but this is something else. These sores are part of the job but things can be done to reduce the pain and better, prevent trouble. Some things like leg length can cause long term issues but then again, many pros and their coaching staff will work to identify and compensate this.

19 thoughts on “Tom Boonen’s delicate (t)issue”

  1. During the Tour Cavendish was tweeting about his saddle sore but his take on it was whether he should shave more…area not frequency. Also, a bit more info than I probably wanted.

  2. I’m sure this problem is more widespread than we know about, but most pros are not going to make it public unless it’s so bad it become obvious, either in their position or performance. I remember years ago seeing (I think it was Frankie Andreau) soldiering on with half of his saddle cut away, essentially sitting on one “cheek” as it were. The modern inserts in cycling shorts are extremely good at wicking moisture, I remember just slightly touching an animal drinking trough once on an MTB ride in the Italian Alps — in an instant the “chamois” was like a sponge, soaked fully with water! In a hot, humid environment how would this ever dry out? Sounds like the Vuelta had conditions like these and Tommy was sitting all day in a pool of his own sweat (and who knows what else?) while riding. Friction and this kind of wet environment makes it tough to avoid problems. The creams nowadays are not for softening up the insert but to reduce any friction and for me, I believe they sort of “glue” the insert to your body, keeping friction between the shorts/insert and saddle rather than between the insert and your sensitive undercarriage.

  3. Shaving makes it worse! Softens the area even more.

    If you are going take blade to yer bawbag better to leave and get waxed! My mate had constant battles with ingrown hairs/saddle sores – so much so that he had to have 3 small ops to cut the follicles out. He now waxes – or goes to get a wax and hasn’t had an such problems! He shared this over a beer – i was almost speechless!

  4. My guess is that Boonen has some explaining to do regarding his results the last couple years. Rather than give more excuses for mediocre results, he just put it all out there.

    The media can’t really knock a guy for continuing to ride with a big painful hole in his balls, but a saddle sore would be just another excuse.

  5. well, I can recall Sean Kelly being the subject of an article regarding this same issue.
    No one inferred or suggested he was less of a rider for confirming it, in fact quite the contrary.
    Kelly’s tissue ‘issue’ was that he was split down there, and retired form the Vuelta due to the pain.
    He allegedly had the area stitched without anaesthetic…….. mechanics confirmed the screaming….

    So Tom Boonen has publicly stated he has an extreme case in the perenium area.
    Pretty unpleasant, yet he is criticised for it ? Some suggest he is using it as an excuse for ‘poor results’ elsewhere ?

    Oh come on people, get a grip.
    Boonen has had some fantastic results, over the years, and he has also encountered some poor moments, which he is more than aware of. He is human.
    As cyclists, we’ve all at one stage or another, encountered the less than easy side of blocked pores,
    infected areas, and dealt with it.
    Boonen’s efforts, are amplified because of who he is, what he is expected to do, and that he is trying to ride himself into form for the forthcoming world championships.

  6. Good piece. But I think Boonen is right to talk about it, his job is to sell stories, pictures, bikes, equipment, and whatever Quick Step sells. But chiefly stories of pain and endurance. (Btw, I think there’s a typo in the sentence about Fignon’s abscess). 🙂

  7. The most significant example of this occupational hazard must br Oscar Freire who missed the entire 20005 season, save early season race (?) thus creating a season where the world champion was not seen.

  8. i distinctly remember reading an article in defunct magazine Winnning about the 7-Eleven team`s first euro peleton female masseuse/soigneur (she was a registered RN i believe) treating a rider on an opposing team during the TDF for a split in his scrotum. not just a tiny one. the other team`s soigneurs had no idea what to do anymore to help the poor rider, who was quite literally crying on the bike all day. a split in the scrotum! ouch.

    I think it is good to hear these types of stories, it reminds everyone that they are human and endure the same issues recreational riders endure, only magnified by a factor of xxx due to the mileage they rack up.

    • Hi Michael,

      I just saw your post today. The article you are referring to was in VeloNews, April 4, 1994. by Owen Mulholland. It was titled ” The Trauma of Tending Injured Racers “.

      When he interviewed me for that piece it would have been a full book if I spoke about all the trauma cases I have dealt with. That piece covered the problem that Bruno Leali had ” down below “; he was on the Carrera Team. I was a soigneur on 7-ELEVEN at the time. My team director gave me permission to help Carrera’s head soigneur and doctor…maybe someday I might need a favor when our doctor wasn’t around.

      The favor was re-paid to me, but I had left 7-ELEVEN for Toshiba-La-Vie-Claire. The article explains how the Carrera Team doc helped me with Pascal Poisson in a horrific crash during the Giro.

      Michael, I am only a soigneur, not an RN. We sure cover alot of ground!


  9. A Rugby parallel. Pretty sure Buck was the equivalent of a Marine/Seal in the NZ Navy as well.

    “Shelford made his Test debut for the All Blacks later that year against France in a 19–7 victory in Toulouse, and then was a notable victim of the infamous “Battle of Nantes” in the second Test. Roughly 20 minutes into the match, he was caught at the bottom of a rather aggressive ruck, and an errant French boot found its way into Shelford’s groin, somehow ripping his scrotum and leaving one testicle hanging free. He also lost four teeth in the process. Incredibly, after discovering the injury to his scrotum, he calmly asked the physio to stitch up the tear and returned to the field before a blow to his head left him concussed. He was substituted and watched the remainder of the game from the grandstand where he witnessed the All Blacks lose 16–3. To this day Shelford has no memory of the game.[2]” Wikipedia

  10. Maybe he put a pork chop down there and forgot to remove the bone? Thank goodness they dont have the ask the team mechanic to stitch their scrotum up whilst straddled on two wheel truers like Kelly (well that’s the rumor I heard) Ah now there was the proof who had the balls. I personally dont mind the details, it gives us an idea as to whether there are pussies or not. Seems the bad asses these days need more pampering at the spa.

  11. I’m glad he’s forthcoming with this info. Too many sensitive men afraid to talk about medical issues concerning delicate areas. This is an all too common problem that faces many riders. Your embarrasement is just that… yours.

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